Friday, March 21, 2014

Springtime: Ledge of Hope

There are lots of things to be afraid of.

Snakes that slither so quickly toward you out of the dirt, slithering that makes your heart beat fast. 

There's the sharp lightning dash, followed so quickly by the thunder peal that your eyes and brain didn't have time to tell your heart not to jump out of your chest.

Boys on ledges, eyeing you uneasily, while the one you thought sweet is almost swept up in their uneasiness. 

Girls with tempers so red hot and fiery fast that you don't know which way your head is spinning once they're through with you.

A world that seems draped with the fog of danger and darkness; broken daughters looking for love their daddies never bothered to give and lost sons walking down sidewalks not bothering to look for meaning, because there is no meaning to be found.

And many, many days, I am afraid, that too much will be lost, too many hearts broken, too many families destroyed. That too many sons and daughters will believe the lies they've been told, will not recognize the light for they've become accustomed to the dark.

But when Spring comes, I remember there are so many things to be a part of.

There is dirt to dig, weeds to pull, with the help of 8 small hands, pulling their weight and then some.

Spring sunset over our soon-to-be-prepared raised garden beds.

There are porches to be sat on, while the storm rages on, because the rain sweeping across the freeway is just so beautiful this time.

There are sidewalks on which to walk, without fear, past those ledges, offering a soft but unwavering eye to the ledge-sitters, proclaiming, "I am not afraid," and maybe even, "I know this isn't you; I know you are kind."

And there is understanding and grace found, for the anger is not really about you, only piled up and up and up from years of abandonment and misdirection and wounds of wounds of wounds.

It is Spring, and there is Hope yet to be found!

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Size of Your Heart

There's something that happens to me a lot, and I'm ashamed to admit it.  

The hatbox full of letters of so many friends that fill up my heart.

But maybe some of you do this, too.

Do you know the feeling when you see Facebook pictures of your best friends hanging out with their other friends, the ones you always fear are a little cooler than you, enticing your besties with fun Friday night plans or a free vacation some warm, summer-year-round location?

Or you're at a party, sitting at the dinner table, when the other friend cracks some inside joke, of which you are clearly on the outside, or "remembers when" to a time of which for the life of you, you just cannot remember (until, oh yes, you can't remember because it happened on that warm vacation to which you weren't invited).

Those times stink, the times when you are reminded that your friends' lives don't revolve around you, and they do, in fact, have other friends.

Then, one time, you went out to dinner with your besties - multiple sets of besties - and you cracked the inside joke about the New Year's party and you remembered the time at the lakehouse when you both thought you were brave enough to swim across the lake until a storm blew up, and you turned around for home.

And about the time you were turning around in the middle of the lake, you saw your friend's face fall just a bit, as she realized she wasn't there and this wasn't her story and so, for five or ten minutes, it feels like she's not cool enough or loved enough and maybe you do love your lakehouse friends more (no! wait! I love them all!)

That's when you realize that if your heart's capacity is big enough for your lakehouse friends, drop-in friends, workout friends, laugh-at-nothing-and-everything friends, then maybe their heart is that big, too. 

And if you genuinely love all those friends and value them for all the unique ways they make your life rich, then they probably value you and love you that much, too.

So, the next time they talk about that warm, sunny vacation, maybe you'll feel a twinge of jealousy, but it will quickly depart as you smile, sit back, listen and love that your friends all get to give and receive so much love - from you and many others. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Wash the Dishes: Memory and Legacy

We washed. We dried. We put away.

This was the 2-3 times daily ritual of the dishes, led by a grandchild, always participated in by Nana.

Oh, she had a dishwasher, but rarely did she use it except for the big holiday meals and whenever else she got a hankering for its sanitizing power. Nana seemed to prefer the handwashing.

Or maybe she just preferred the time with her grandchildren, all working together, suds and dishtowels, the stool that made me tall enough to join in, plunging my hands into the warm water filling that yellow, porcelain sink.

This is one of my sharpest, most distinct memories with Nana. We worked together, sometimes after breakfast, lunch and dinner, before plenty of game-playing, bowling or a trip to the Bingo hall, where we read our own books while they played (or, best of all, when she snuck us one of her Bingo cards where, if we won, she yelled "Bingo!" for us since, after all, we were under 18). We went to the movies, to the mall, to the park. We spent countless nights over at her house, joining Pop's ritual watching of Wheel of Fortune after an early dinner.

Before the meal that dirtied the dishes, there were leaves. Yes, the dreaded leaves. And pine straw.

We gathered up the needed supplies - gloves, rakes, trash bags, the wheelbarrow from the shed - and knew that you had to stoop low enough to get all the leaves from under the bushes or Pop would surely notice and make you go back and get them later. We knew not to stop into Ms. Jones' yard lest she see you on her property and give you the evil eye.

We worked together a lot.

And you know, these times were good to us. Could it be that now, because of those dishes and leaves, I understand the joy and camaraderie of working alongside those you love ? When Susan and I spend hours weeding in the garden, don't we have some of the best and often unexpected conversations there?

My Nana gave this to me; this is her legacy. She taught us work. She taught us togetherness. She showed us family.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Chance to Change

In less than a month, our new housemate will move in. Here are 5 things I hope not to do:
  1. Resent him for not doing his dishes.
  2. Tell him one thing when I mean another. Instead, I’ll have a real conversation about it, not a passive-aggressive one in passing.
  3. Ask him to do things that I am not willing to do myself. How many times have I caught myself doing the very thing that bugs me about another person?
  4. Forget it’s his house, too. He pays rent. He lives here. Give up some control here.
  5. Love myself more than him. 
As hard as it is to live with others - sharing space, sharing decisions, sharing needs - it can often be harder to live with yourself. 

In the 5 years we’ve lived with a variety of people, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve not necessarily changed a lot about myself, but I have seen it. I have spoken it aloud. But now it my opportunity to put into practice some of the change I hope to see in myself.

What have you learned about yourself from living with others (roommates, spouses, parents, etc.)? Have you been brave enough, vulnerable enough, to make changes?

Friday, January 3, 2014

You and Me, On the Curb

Mattresses, clothes, a baby crib. Bookshelf, rocking chair, lamp, microwave. All things that immediately identify regular, everyday living, things that most of us have in our homes and closets, on our shelves, in our kitchens.

We shop for them at thrift stores and on Craigslist; receive them at wedding showers and baby showers; get them as hand-me-downs from grandparents and aunts. Their usefulness goes unnoticed most days, as we rise up and sit back down in the same old chair, re-heat our leftovers every day at lunch, drift off to sleep night after night, some more restless than others.

But when stacked on the curb, near the intersection of Holmes and Walnut Grove, any passerby knows it means one thing only: eviction.


My coffee was only $2.68. Unlimited refills. That’s worth it to me, when I’ve set up shop here at this local cafe, knowing I should be buying food (and often, I do). 

I’ve got a five-dollar bill left, one I’m half-prepared to give to the woman on the corner a half-mile back, the one holding the sign while smiling at me as I turned at the light, making my way here. 

It’s not that I’m always compassionate; I love excuses.  

“She’s probably lying to me.” (Yes, there’s a good chance of that.)

“She probably keeps making bad decisions.” (Also a good chance of that. A lot of people who make bad decisions, including myself, still have a roof over their head. So, what?)

“I’ve seen her before; why hasn’t anything changed?” (Because most people only give her five-dollar bills and then drive away never to think twice about her.)

What I know is that she needs more than a five-dollar bill, and that is what’s hard to address. What she needs is to be looked in the eyes and asked, “What is your name?”

That is scarier, harder, asks more of me, like getting out of my car on [what a south Mississippi-born gal considers to be] a bitterly cold day. It means she might ask for more. It means she might have the opportunity to lie to me. Or to tell me the truth. 

And the truth usually asks much more of me than a lie.

As I think about the invisible family who got evicted less than a mile from my house and the woman on the corner less than a mile from my mind, I’m struck by the power of community.

Are these families, made of mothers and sons, grandmothers and goddaughters, connected to a community? What kind of community? 

In my Christian community, one where we seek to know, support and love each other more richly than a success and power-driven culture might have us do, we talk about community a lot. I think we’ve concluded that it’s not community if we just hang out, if we aren’t going deeper, if we aren’t seeking God together.

And I agree: that is a good, rich definition of community.

But that’s our definition of community, that when we've finally reached "real community" it's good, and hard, and rich.

Almost everyone is a part of a community: the homeless community, a family community, a religious community. It can be healthy, or it can be toxic. It can be life-giving, or it can be demanding and controlling. Almost always there is some community at work in someone’s decisions, health and well-being, or lack thereof. Community is, indeed, powerful, whether for good or bad.

And this is why I’m thinking about community. Is there a good, healthy community at work in the lives of those I’m writing about today, the woman on the corner, the family out of a home? Maybe. Their community might be doing the best they can to love them and serve them in hard places, giving temporary shelter when the locks were changed, or on the coldest of nights.

But my gut says that there is a truly good community yet to be found, a community of hospitality, of welcome and love that says come as you are. A community that has been welcomed first by the One who dwelt in flesh, living among wanderers who lived on every extreme of the spectrums: from fishermen to rabbis, from powerful men to weak and property-less women, from legalistic leaders to faith-filled tax collectors who invited Him in for dinner. 

This is what I’ve yet to get, to really internalize, that I was invited and loved as I was, as I am

I was given a home, an identity, a purpose, even with all my crap on the curb and my little lies just to get a handout or two to make myself feel better for about 24 hours. 

And now, I am to go and do likewise. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Walking Lonely Roads

Some days it is a lonely road on which the artists walks. The way we must document everything, in lines and fire, dust and color, words and song. Why must the smallest of things be noted, some so taxing to read, listen to, watch. Are our mediums - canvas, clay, paper - just places to groan, complain about what's wrong around us, draw attention to ourselves to fill some hole left unfilled in our childhoods?

Even our closest friends can sometimes feel the pressure from being given too much emotion, baggage, thoughts brought up from the depths. C'mon, just leave it buried; that's what we do.

As I write, I imagine how my husband might respond to the exposed things, possibly with, "What?" or "What do you mean?" or "Hmmmmm, good writing." Even to those as close to us as a spouse or a sibling, there's no way to wholly transfer experience, perception, feeling. As a songwriter, I hope to at least stir up some desire for the listener to think on their own experience, as a result of placing themselves in mine for 4 minutes.

It's a scary thing to pick up that guitar and expose the flaws, loves, guilts, hatreds I've found in myself. Or what more of the same you will find in me, once you hear.

But mine isn't the only road that's lonely.

Yours is, too.

You've documented everything that's ever happened to you, been done to you, documented it in your own head. You, too, note every small thing, every failure, every victory. You beat yourself up, pick yourself up, and, if you're brave enough, eek out little snippets of these things to the ones closest to you, hoping to feel some relief, should they reach out and grab hold of what you've given them.

But for some, you'll never tell, never explain, never get around to the deepest of deeps.

For me, and maybe for you, I just can't help but write it down.

I'll help you walk that often lonely road.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Santa's Broken Leg and Grace

With our adventurous, kind-hearted nephew
I heard the fall of something tiny but breakable on the other side of the living room, looking up to find my nephew with that "oops" look on his face. He scrambled under the end table to retrieve Santa, in two pieces, with one less limb attached. With worried eyebrows, he ran to the kitchen to find Papa T, afraid of how he'd be met. Raised voice? Spanking? Repeated instruction about not to roughhouse in places he shouldn't?

Instead, he found grace. "It's OK, we can glue it." 

Though he ran to the room to cry and release the fear he'd felt, the grace was still there, immoveable.

But so many will not find that. So many will not receive grace, and in turn, will not learn how to offer it to others, instead only learning how to extend punishment, shame and fear: an illusion of control to help them overcome the many years they felt so out of control (and controlled by others).

you found grace and ease in the eyes of your papa
but others aren't so lucky to find that kind of love.

he is afraid of everything you and I might dismiss.
every simple break, every small slip,
a reason to scream, a reason to fight
control is the name of the game
do you find joy in handing out shame?

and is it because you believe
that nothing's worth anything, not even yourself.
to you, I think this must mean
the little one there is no better than you,
no better than you must have been told
but isn't this way getting old?

Will I know how to extend to grace to so many I meet, who know the pain of years of shame and fear? Will I let this help me understand what it might have felt like to live in fear of the adults who should have shepherded yet led me down paths of darkness instead?

Lord, have mercy.